Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.
This is an indelicate question so I’ll just let it fly (pun intended): What do we do about the person in the office who openly farts whenever the need arises? — Kenneth B., Warrenville, Illinois
There are biological and medical reasons behind flatulence, and it’s worthwhile to understand that it’s usually normal and healthy. In fact, some of the most offensive farting grievances are usually early warning signs of potential health problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, colon cancer or lactose intolerance. Similarly, the vegans around you probably fart more than everyone else, though they’re not as smelly as meat eaters.
Workplace farting etiquette is a bit trickier than general farting etiquette since people at work may not be family and friends (with whom you can be caustic and brutally honest), but they’re not strangers either. If you frequently collaborate with this person, especially in small spaces, it’s best to confront it directly so that you can have a productive relationship.
If there’s an underlying medical condition, your colleague is under no obligation to publicly reveal this information and may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Your company may not know; and even if they do, they can’t tell you because that would most likely be a HIPAA privacy violation. On the flip side, many individuals with an underlying medical condition may be acutely aware of their frequent farting — so much so that they apologize in advance for their embarrassing side effect. Or: The frequently farting vegan may laugh and let you know that their farts are a sign of healthy living.
As for how you handle it, the first thing you need to recognize is that you’re not going to stop this person from farting. Nor is public shaming them productive. Instead, have your manager talk to HR and decide who should approach your colleague. Usually, this results in either their direct manager or HR rep letting them know that the frequency, noise and/or odor associated with their public farting is a distraction.
Whatever you or your company does, don’t ask them to “hold it in,” “run and hide” or “point it at your least favorite person in the room.” Fraternity hijinks aside, that’s rude and/or could be harmful. However, if the employee thinks it’s all a joke, they fall into the asshole category and the company should consider other approaches to the problem.
It’s really the only way to clear the air — I’ll see your pun and raise you another.
Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.